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The Great But Lesser Known Batman Stories

Written by: Abel Pinedo

Before the Court of Owls and the New 52; before Batman Incorporated and way before Damien entered the picture, I’d like to discuss a few of the better, lesser known Batman storylines.  Sure, we’ve all heard and read The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, Gotham by Gaslight, Arkham Asylum, Year One and Knightfall but today I want to talk about a few stories that have slipped through the cracks yet are highly significant to the Batman mythos.

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Batman: The Cult

If you have read Knightfall, then you know that it was hyped as the ‘breaking of the Bat’. Physically yes, Batman was broken but the first time he was mentally broken occurred in Batman: The Cult. This four issue miniseries was released in 1988. It can easily be found in a collected format today. The basic storyline follows Deacon Blackfire and his followers who are slowly attempting a takeover of Gotham City. Batman is captured and brainwashed before he is rescued by Robin. The artwork is gorgeous and the story is riveting. Ever thought you’d see Batman as anyone’s lackey?  Well, when the Bat is broken, you don’t know what to expect. Also, the first time I saw the Batmobile, my eyes popped! One thing I like about this story is the relationship between Batman and Robin. This Robin is Jason Todd and though he wasn’t around as long as Dick Grayson, here he stands toe to toe with Batman in the fight to reclaim Gotham. I also like Batman’s inner turmoil as the effects of the brainwashing cause hallucinations throughout the storyline.

Batman Annual #15

We all get old and you have to wonder just how long will Batman continue the fight, right? Of course, the beauty of comics is that our heroes don’t age the way you and I do. Well, in Batman Annual #15 from 1991, we get ‘The Last Batman Story’. This was part of the summer long Armageddon 2001 storyline that ran through all the major DC titles. In this tale, it is ten years in the future and Batman is facing the death penalty via execution for the murder of the Penguin. Tim Drake has retired as Robin and moved into politics. The Joker has been cured and hosts his own talk show (shades of The Dark Knight Returns). Batman awaits his midnight execution while trying to figure out who finally got the best of him. This is a great story focusing on Batman’s own mortality. When you see how much Alfred, Gordon and even Bruce Wayne have aged you are hit with the harsh nature of their own mortality.

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Batman: Ten Nights of the Beast

If there was ever a prototype for Bane, I’d have to say he was the KGBeast who we first saw in Ten Nights of the Beast. Originally published in Batman issues 417-420, this can easily be found in a collected format for less than ten bucks. The storyline involves a rogue Russian agent whose mission is to carry out ten assassinations in Gotham City. Some of the references are dated as this was published in the late 1980’s but the story is still a nice look at a different time in world politics. At the end of issue 418, Batman acknowledges that for the first time, he’s matched with a superior foe. Right then, you know this is not going to have a nice and tidy ending. Two things make this a memorable story. First, it’s just nasty with violence. There’s a lot of blood as the KGBeast eliminates his targets one by one. Second, the gut punch ending of the final face off between Batman and the KGBeast. I won’t dare ruin it but let’s say that it’s the first time I’ve ever seen Batman end a battle like this. Even as a long time Bat fan, it is chilling in a subtle way.

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Detective Comics Annual #2

Detective Comics Annual #2 from 1989 takes a look at the days before Batman first donned the cowl. The storyline involves a seventeen year old Bruce Wayne using an alias but studying under a renowned detective named Harvey Harris in Birmingham, Alabama.  Harvey is investigating a series of race related crimes that appear to be part of a larger conspiracy. Batman is really only present to bookend the story. Based on the cover, you’d think it would be an issue of Batman fighting the KKK. The deeper aspects of the story involve Bruce learning his craft from a seasoned veteran. The issue starts with Batman narrating to an unseen person. The warp up comes when you see who he’s been telling the story to all this time. It’s a wonderful story of vengeance versus justice but it’s not a typical Batman story. The ending is cold but the message is clear.

Batman: Ghosts (Legends of the Dark Knight)

Batman meets Charles Dickens…kinda. In Batman: Ghosts (A Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special), Batman faces the spirit of his father who warns him of his impending fate, lest Batman change the future of Bruce Wayne.  I know it may sound hokey but it works beautifully. Two of the three ghosts from the classic story are visualized here as Poison Ivy and Joker. This is the origin story of Bruce solidifying himself as charitable public figure and founder of the Wayne Foundation. It is partially a pre-Year One story as well as a re-introduction to Lucius Fox. I love the last panel, as it’s an image of Bruce we rarely see.

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Superman: Dark Knight Over Metropolis

I’ve saved my favorite for last. The storyline “Dark Knight Over Metropolis” starts out with Batman investigating a robbery/murder where he notices the victim is in possession of a kryptonite ring. This leads to Batman heading to Metropolis to locate the source of the ring. Naturally this leads to several moments of Batman and Superman teaming up to get to the bottom of an ever growing mystery. It’s a convoluted storyline involving Lex Luthor and Intergang. If you weren’t reading comics in 1990, some of this as well as the supporting characters like Cat Grant and Gangbuster may seem confusing. The gist here is the relationship between Batman and Superman. These three issues set the tone for their ‘relationship’ for quite some time. There’s even a connection to The Dark Knight Returns. This story has only recently been put into a collected edition (along with a few other issues) but if you want to add the individual issues to your collectiont, you’re going to have to dig in the Superman bins for this one. Part 1 is in Superman #44, part 2 is in The Adventures of Superman #467 and part 3 is in Action Comics #654. This has probably my favorite ending of ANY Batman story. The ramification of Superman’s last words and actions will leave you (and Batman) speechless.

I’m sure some of the issues on my list are completely foreign to you. Only time will tell if recent storylines will become classics that fans will talk about for years. No matter what happens I'm sure we will keep reading, and you never know what issues will become personal favorites. Now go support your local comic shop!